The ugly face of illegal sand harvesting in Makueni County reared its head once again over the weekend after one person was killed and nine others seriously injured when two vigilante groups from opposing camps clashed over the illegal activity in Kasikeu.

The Saturday afternoon incident that took place in Kaseve and Musaani villages saw the two groups armed with arrows and petrol bombs engage in fights that left one of them dead and several others nursing arrow and burn injuries.

The injured are recuperating at Sultan Hamud and Makindu Subcounty hospitals.

A lorry believed to have been ferrying sand was also razed down in the scufffle before police were called in to stop the chaos that erupted after the vigilante group supporting sand harvesting attacked those against the activity that has led to wanton destruction of rivers and environment in the region.

The incident has angered Makueni residents including the Governor Kivutha Kibwana who has pointed an accusing finger to a senior police officer for the sand harvesting.

In his Facebook¬†account, the governor sensationally claimed that the Deputy Officer Commanding Station (OCS) at Sultan Hamud was the one responsible for the scooping of sand in Kasikeu and took to Facebook to lament the County Government’s inability to stop the menace due to the cartels enjoying protection from the police.

“One of our county employees implementing the sand conservation act has been waylaid twice in his residence.Security is a national function and the security forces in Makueni are not helping us.We are now relying on the Interior Minister to help us,” read the post in part.

In the lengthy Facebook post the governor regretted how sand harvesting was rampant in Kibwezi and Kilome saying that the youth involved in scooping of the sand had invaded people’s farms destroying irrigation schemes with impunity.

“These young people are supported by police and a few provincial administrators together with cartels in Mlolongo. We have discovered that many lorries belong to the police,” said Kibwana in the Facebook post.

However, in a quick rejoinder the police have denied the allegations with Nzaui OCPD Andrew Mbogo saying that police are not involved in sand harvesting.

The governor also blamed the China Bridge and Road Construction Company (CRBC) for illegally harvesting sand in the county noting that the environmental degradation caused by the uncontrolled sand scooping will take years to reverse.

“The China Company has taken millions of tons of sand without doing anything to conserve the environment. They take water from the common sources instead of doing their boreholes. They take stones for ballast for free. They have destroyed roads. They have made several rivers dry.They are reversing our economic growth by seriously hampering our food security. The effects of the environmental degradation will be felt many years to come,” lamented the governor.

Incidents of residents killing and maiming others in areas where sand harvesting is carried out are not new with Kasikeu being most prevalent with such occurrences. A few months ago two lorries caught harvesting sand in Kaluku river in the same area were reduced to ashes after irate residents opposed to the activity burnt them. The drivers of the lorries escaped death by a whisker.

Despite the far reaching consequences of sand harvesting including drying rivers and death the activity continues unabated especially in Kasikeu and some parts of Kibwezi where sand cartels and unemployed youth who have organised themselves into vigilante groups carry out the activity undeterred.

Most of the sand is ferried to Athi river and Mlolongo where a lorry goes for between Sh30,000 and Sh40,000. However the youth who scoop and load the sand are paid a paltry Sh2,000 per lorry.

The Sand Conservation and Utilisation Act 2015 that came to effect early this year seems not to have achieved much and residents have been left to their own means to protect the resource hence the formation of vigilante groups to curb the illegal businesses.

Chairperson Sand Conservation and Utilization Authority Charles Mutuku in a press release condemned the incident and retaliated that sand harvesting was banned in Kilome and Kibwezi among other regions.

He blamed unregulated sand harvesting and the violence on unscrupulous business people and called on the police to arrest those responsible and promised that the County Government will do what ever it takes to protect and conserve the environment.

Makueni County is classified as an arid and semi arid region with erratic rainfall and most residents rely on rain fed water for both subsistence agriculture and domestic use. Sand harvesting therefore poses a great risk to the water sources that the residents rely on.

With the current climate change, all stakeholders and especially the National and the County government should stop the blame game and chat a way forward to protect the environment and regulate the activity that can be a reliable source of income for the County Government.